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10 things to know about magnet schools in LA




Students at Baldwin Hills Elementary School, which has a Gifted High Ability Magnet Center.
Students at Baldwin Hills Elementary School, which has a Gifted High Ability Magnet Center.
Clotee Allochuku (Flickr Creative Commons)

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Magnet schools in Los Angeles have been around since 1977. The program was created as part of a court-ordered desegregation program designed to increase racial balance in schools.

Today, there are 210 magnet programs within LAUSD, each with its own particular theme— from STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) to visual and performing arts. Some magnet programs are centers located on another school's campus and some make up a school on their own.

So how to figure out if a magnet school is right for your child? And how to get in? 

Amy Walia-Fazio, Executive Director of the Parents Education League of Los Angeles (PEL), joined Take Two to answer parents' most frequently asked questions.

1. What is a magnet school?

Magnet schools in LAUSD were established in the 1970s as a response to the disparities between public schools in wealthy neighborhoods and in poor neighborhoods. The goal was to empower parents to choose a school in a different neighborhood that might best serve their child.

Magnet schools fall under the jurisdiction of Student Integration Services at LAUSD and admissions are determined by a need to maintain racially balanced populations as well as available space.

2. What kinds of magnet schools are there?

There are currently 210 magnet programs throughout the district. They vary from highly gifted/gifted, to environmental science magnet program, to public service magnets. The choices are a little bit endless when it comes to magnet schools.

The way to get information about magnet schools is through the office of Student Integration Services. Their website is echoices.lausd.net and they produce a very thorough brochure every year that outlines every single magnet school that's available, along with information on how to apply.

3. How and when do you apply?

Magnet schools are early in the application process for the public sector. They go live October 1 of the year prior to your entry. And the way that you apply, you go online, you fill out the paper work, you put in your choice of magnet program and you submit.

4. Can you apply to more than one program?

You can list up to three magnet programs to apply for, but you can only choose only one. The way that the admissions process works for magnet schools is point-based. It's also lottery-based because the points then generate priority within each category of points. It's like a weighted lottery.

5. How do points work?

You can get points from matriculating within the magnet system, having a sibling that's already within the magnet system, having a school that's designated overcrowded as your homeschool, and then there's the PHABAO designation. That's an acronym that stands for "Predominantly Hispanic, Black, Asian, or other Non-Anglo." If your school is a designated PHABAO school, you get extra points just for that designation.

The most points you can get any one year are 12 points and that's for matriculation, so for folks who are already in the magnet system. If you're not in the system, but you have a sibling who's already in a magnet school with the same home address, you get three points for that. If you're in a school that's designated overcrowded, you get points for that. You can call LAUSD to find out if your school is designated overcrowded. They do that on a year to year basis.

6. I've heard there's a strategy to getting points. What's that all about?

The waiting list is where the choice comes into play and where some families use a little bit of strategy. But when you talk to LAUSD's office of Student Integration Services, they really do believe the mission of the magnet school system is to help integrate schools. The idea of playing a game with magnet schools is not really in good conscience, but people do it. 

So let's say a family wants to apply to a magnet program that really starts in 3rd grade, but it's a really popular magnet program and you don't have any points yet. What families can do in that case is aim for that program for 4th grade or 5th grade. They start in 2nd grade and apply for 3rd grade knowing that they'll likely be wait-listed and then they accrue wait list points. Applying again the next year means you can accrue a little more wait list points.

7. How long do points last?

Points expire after three years, and if you're offered a spot you have to take it or lose those points.

8. How does race factor into the application process?

It's actually about the school experience rather than about each individual child. Part of the point system involves PHABAO designated schools. If your school is predominantly one of these designations (Predominantly Hispanic, Black, Asian, or other Non-Anglo) then you have automatically four points. That's an attempt to level the playing field so that folks who are in those designated schools can then move to other magnet schools so that they can provide some racially diverse experiences in those magnet programs.

9. How do I get my child into a gifted/talented magnet program?

There are criteria that you have to meet. Eligibility involves some IQ testing and some verification that you are actually qualified to be in the highly gifted/gifted/high achieving magnet schools. So parents have to get their children tested and that happens through LAUSD's school psychologists.

10. How do I know if a magnet school or program is right for me?

It may be good option for a family looking for a specific type of program and experience for their child. If their child is gifted or shows some remarkable talent in arts or if their child shows some acumen in the business sector, a magnet program might be a really good option.

Series: Good Schools

As part of its Good Schools series, Take Two looks at the education landscape in the Los Angeles area. That includes its public schools, magnets, charters, private institutions and dual-language programs. You’ll hear from parents, academics, teachers, kids and even a couple of TV show producers.

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts on Facebook, or tweet us @Take Two and @KPCC with the hashtag #goodschools.